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countenance grew pale as death, when he beheld that carriage hastening through
the Park towards the entrance of the Hall.
Dunstable perceived and understood his fear: and he
himself experienced no little dread lest the approaching vehicle should contain
Lady Ravensworth. But, in the next moment, this suspicion vanished; for it did
not seem probable that her ladyship would return to a mansion totally unprepared
to receive her.
The old gardener was, however, now shaking with a new
alarm; and the departure was hurried as much as possible: but the travelling
barouche had stopped near the entrance of the Hall ere Egerton's party had
reached the bottom of the great staircase.
There was no male domestic in attendance upon the
carriage: the postillion accordingly alighted from his horse, opened the door,
and assisted two females, both clad in deep mourning, to descend.
Of those females, one was evidently a lady, and the
other her maid.
The former raised her black veil, immediately upon
alighting, and gazed in astonishment upon the three vehicles which had prevented
her own from drawing-up immediately against the steps of the principal entrance.
By this time Egerton's party, followed by the old
gardener who was doing his best to hurry the intruders away, had reached the
portico; and it was at this precise moment that the lady raised her veil on
descending from the barouche.
Cholmondeley and Dunstable started; and the former
exclaimed, "Lady Ravensworth!"
Then, recovering his wonted self-command, he advanced
towards Adeline, raised his hat, and said, "Your ladyship is doubtless
astonished to see so large a party at Ravensworth Hall; but if you will permit
me to speak to you five words in private — "
"I have no secrets to discuss with Colonel
Cholmondeley," interrupted Adeline, in a tone of freezing hauteur and yet
of deep dejection: then, turning towards Mrs. Bustard, who had thrust herself
forward to learn why the arrival of a barouche containing a lady and her female
attendant had produced such a singular excitement amongst the gentlemen of the
party, she said, "May I be permitted to inquire, madam, the meaning of this
assembly on the day of my return?"
"If you'll tell me fust, ma'am, who you are,"
replied Mrs. Bustard, "may be I'll satisfy you."
"I am Lady Ravensworth," was the dignified
"Well then, my lady, all I can say is-and which I
do on the part of my nephew Albert — that you're quite welcome to
occupy a room or two in this edifisk until such times as you can provide
yourself with another place — "
"My dear aunt, allow me to explain myself to Lady
Ravensworth," exclaimed Egerton, now stepping forward.
"Eh — do, my boy," cried Mrs.
Bustard, whose voice was somewhat husky with champagne, and whose sight, from
the same cause, was a little dizzy — so that she did not perceive
the glance of mingled anger and astonishment which Adeline threw upon her while
she was so politely offering her ladyship the use of apartments in Ravensworth
"Lady Ravensworth, permit me — one
word, I implore you!" said Lord Dunstable, in an under tone, as he advanced
Is this mystery to be explained to me at all?"
cried Adeline. "Lord Dunstable, I have no better reason to grant a private
interview to you than to your friend Colonel Cholmondeley: I therefore [-385-]
that, without further delay, you will inform me to what circumstance I am to
attribute the honour which my poor mansion has experienced by receiving so large
a party during my absence."
"Her mansion, indeed!" said Mrs.
Bastard, with an indignant toss of the head, as she turned towards her daughters
and Mr. Tedworth Jones, all of whom remained mute spectators of a scene, which
was to them totally inexplicable.
"Upon me must the weight of your ladyship's anger
fall," said Egerton, again advancing, and mustering up all his courage to
afford the requisite explanation.
"No such a thing!" cried Mrs. Bustard.
"What right has the lady to be angry? Because her house was put up for
sale, and you bought it-"
"Abraham, will you explain this
enigma?" exclaimed Adeline, turning impatiently towards the gardener, whom
she suddenly discovered peering from behind Sir Rupert Harborough.
"Why, my lady," said the old man, twisting his
paper cap over and over in his hands as he dragged himself irresolutely forward,
"your ladyship sees these wery respectable folk — leastways,
respectable as far as I know anythink to the contrairey, — for my
maxim is, my lady — as I often says to my old 'ooman — says
I — at such times-when she says, says she — "
Adeline actually stamped her foot with impatience.
"I'm a-coming to the pint, my lady," continued
the gardener, now completely crushing the paper cap in his hand; "and in
doing that, my lady, I, must ax your ladyship's pardon — 'cos I'm a
poor simple old man which can't boast of much edication — leastways,
as I says to my old 'oo. man — "
"This is insupportable!" cried Adeline.
"In one word, did you not receive my letter stating that it was my
intention to return to the Hall this week?"
"No, my lady — no such a letter ever
come," answered the gardener.
"But you can perhaps inform me in two words how
these ladies and gentlemen happened to honour my house with their presence i"'
said Adeline, speaking in a severe tone.
"Your house, ma'am!" shouted Mrs. Bustard, her
countenance flashing with indignation: [-386-]
"no such a thing! It's my nephew's — he bought it — and
he is here to tell you so!"
Thus speaking, she thrust Egerton forward.
"My dear aunt," said the young man, tears
starting into his eyes, "I have deceived you! I am sorry for the cheat
which I have practised upon you: but the truth is — "
"Don't tell me no more!" cried Mrs. Bustard.
"I see it all. It's a hoax — a shameful hoax! And I shouldn't
wonder if your Lord and your Baronet and your Honourables are all as Brummagem
as our title to this edifisk. Come, Tedworth — come, gals: let's get
back to the Pavement. This is no place for us."
And having thus expressed herself, Mrs. Bastard bounced
down the steps and clambered like an irritated elephant into the glass-coach,
followed by her five daughters. Mr. Jones then mounted to the dickey; the seedy
coachman whipped the horses, and the crazy old vehicle rattled away.
Lady Ravensworth. attended by her maid, passed into the
mansion without bestowing any farther notice on the gentlemen who still lingered
upon the steps; and when she had thus disappeared, they hastened to take their
departure for London, Egerton in a state of mind enviable only by a man about to
For nearly two years had Adeline been a voluntary exile
from her native land; and, in the seclusion of a charming villa in the south of
France, she had devoted herself to the care of her child, whom the gipsy Morcar
had so miraculously saved from death. She also endeavoured, by the exercise of
charity and a constant attention to her devotions, to atone for the crimes which
she had committed; but, though deeply penitent, her soul could not stifle the
pangs of an intense remorse. And thus had many — many sleepless
nights — often rendered terrible by the shade of the murdered
Lydia. — dimmed the fires of Adeline's eyes, and given to her cheeks
the pallor of marble!
Her only solace was her child, on whom she doated with
all the affection which can be bestowed by a heart that has nothing else to
love-nothing else to render existence even tolerable. The more she alienated her
mind from the frivolities and levities which had occupied her when she was a
brilliant star in the galaxy of London fashion, — and the more
successfully she wrestled with those burning passions which had rendered her the
willing victim of the seducer, even in her girlhood, — so much the
more profound became her affection for the infant Ferdinand. But that
consolation was not to endure. Five months before her return to England the boy
was snatched away from her, — suddenly snatched away by the rude
hand of Fever, as the rose-bud is cropped by the bleak north wind.
Then how desolate became the heart of Adeline! She felt
that her punishment had not yet ceased on earth.
No longer were there charms for her in a foreign land;
and she panted to return to her native clime. For some weeks she wrestled
against this inclination; but having imparted her desire to Eliza Sydney, with
whom she regularly corresponded, a letter from that excellent lady set her mind
at ease as to the expediency of revisiting England. Eliza offered no argument
against the project; and Lady Ravensworth accordingly hastened her preparations
for a departure from the south of France.
The faithful Quentin was still in her service; but the
English lady's-maid, who had followed Adeline to the Continent, had married and
settled in France. A French woman, therefore, supplied her place; and it was
this foreign servant who accompanied Lady Ravensworth on her return to the Hall.
Adeline's desire was to retrace her way in privacy to
the mansion which, according to the conditions of her late husband's will, had
become her own — for there was now no male heir to the proud title
and broad lands of Ravensworth: and her intention was to dwell in the strictest
retirement at the mansion. She had written to the gardener to command him to
prepare for her return; but, by some accident, the letter had miscarried — and
hence the old man's ignorance of the approach of his mistress.
On her arrival, by the Calais steam-packet, at London
Bridge, Adeline had left Quentin to clear the baggage at the Custom-House, and
had proceeded direct to the Hall. The incidents which immediately followed her
arrival are already known to the reader.
It may, however, appear strange that Adeline should come
back to a dwelling where she had suffered so much, and which could not fail to
recall to her with renewed force the black crime which lay so heavily upon her
conscience. But her mind was in that morbid state which is so well calculated to
engender idiosyncratic ideas; and she believed that the very fact of her return
to the scene of her enormity would prove a penance most salutary to the soul.
Such purely Roman Catholic sentiments are frequently found exercising a deep
influence over minds which contrition for great crimes has disposed to
There were also considerations of a more worldly nature
which to some extent urged Lady Ravensworth to return to the Hall. She loathed
the idea of dwelling amidst the noise, the din, and the crowds of the
metropolis: she craved for the retirement of the country. Whither, then, could
she repair save to the mansion which was her own? what excuses could she offer
to those who knew her, for settling in any other part of the suburbs of
London? — for near, though not in, the capital had she
resolved to dwell, in order to be enabled to see her parents occasionally, and
Eliza Sydney frequently.
In addition to all the influences, moral and worldly,
now enumerated, there was another which had confirmed Adeline in the idea of
returning to the Hall. But this was a secret influence for which she could not
account, — an influence that ever interposed amidst her waverings,
to settle them in favour of the project, — one of those influences
to which even the strongest minds are frequently subject, and for the existence
of which they can give no satisfactory reason. Such an influence as this the
Turk would denominate the irresistible current of Destiny; but the pious
Christian believes it to be the secret and all-powerful will of heaven.
Let us, however, proceed with our narrative.
The intruders had departed; and Lady Ravensworth was as
it were alone in that vast mansion which had so many sad and gloomy memorials
She entered the drawing-room where Egerton's party had
banqueted; and, seeing the table covered with the bottles and glasses, turned
away in disgust. Passing into the adjacent suite of apartments, she opened the
shutters, and gazed around [-387-] the large and
lonely rooms in which the silence of death seemed to reign.
She looked at the pictures which hung upon the walls;
and then it struck her that some change had taken place in those rooms, each
feature of which she remembered well.
The more earnestly she gazed upon her, the firmer became
her conviction that every thing was not as she had left it. At length she
perceived that three or four of the most valuable pictures had disappeared: a
costly timepiece, too, was missing from the mantel of one apartment: several
ornaments were wanting in another.
Thinking that these objects might have been shifted from
their usual places, she entered another suite of rooms; and there, instead of
finding the things which were lost from the first, she perceived more vacancies
amongst the pictures and the ornaments.
The conduct of the old gardener in allowing a party of
persons to use the mansion, the care of which had been entrusted to him,
recurred more forcibly than at first to her mind; and what had hitherto appeared
a comparatively venial fault, now assumed a complexion, when coupled with the
disappearance of the pictures and ornaments above mentioned, which naturally
created in her mind most alarming suspicions of his honesty.
She rang the bell: her French servant responded to the
summons; and Adeline desired that the gardener might be immediately sent into
The maid withdrew, and conveyed by signs the order which
she had received; for she was unable to speak a single word of English.
The old man, who was deliberating with his wife upon the
best means of breaking to Lady Ravensworth the unpleasant fact of there being a
putrid corpse in the mansion at that very moment, received the command with a
ludicrous expression of fear and vexation on his countenance; and he repaired to
the presence of his mistress in a state of mind about as agreeable as if he were
on his road to an auto-da-fe.
"Abraham," said Lady Adeline, "there are
certain circumstances which render my return to this house far from pleasant.
Almost heart-broken by the loss of that dear, dear child who constituted my only
earthly joy, I come back to my native land with the hope of at least finding
tranquillity and peace in the retirement of Ravensworth Hall. But scarcely do I
alight from my carriage, when I encounter upon the very threshold of my home a
party of revellers whom your imprudence permitted to celebrate their orgies
within these walls. This fault I was inclined to pardon: but when, upon the
first superficial glance around the principal apartments, I perceive that many
valuable articles have disappeared-"
"Disappeared, my lady!" cried the old man,
starting in a manner rather indicative of surprise than of guilt.
"Yes, Abraham," returned Lady Ravensworth,
severely: "pictures — ornaments — time-pieces — China
bowls-and several objects of less value are missing from these apartments. Have
you removed them elsewhere?"
"Oh! my lady," cried the gardener, "you
can't think that I would rob you! As God is my judge, neither me nor my wife has
touched a single thing in the place — leastways, unless it was to
dust and clean 'em. The door has been kept locked-"
"But if you have been in the habit of allowing
strangers the use of these apartments — "
"No, my lady — this was the fast and
the last time that me and my old 'ooman did such a thing," exclaimed the
gardener, emphatically: and we didn't know we was a-doing anythink so wery
wrong — seeing your ladyship wasn't here."
"And you have not even observed that certain
pictures and ornaments had disappeared?" inquired Adeline, who knew not
what to conjecture — for the manner and words of the old man were
indeed stamped with genuine and wholesome honesty.
"Never, my lady — we never noticed
it," was the answer. "For my part, I seldom come into these rooms at
all: but my old 'ooman dusted 'em out regular once a month or so; and if sh'd [-sic-]
missed anythink I should have knowed of it in a moment. But — "
"But what, Abraham?" said Lady Ravensworth, in
a kinder and much more conciliatory tone.
"There's one circumstance that has very often
troubled me and my wife more than once — or twice — or a
dozen times even, my lady and yet — "
"Speak candidly. Why do you hesitate? she said.
The old man cast a hurried glance around, for it was now
growing dusk, — and, sinking his voice to a whimper, he said,
"The Hall is troubled, my lady."
"What do you mean?" exclaimed Adeline starting
from her seat, as if those words had electrified her. "Explain yourself,
old man — speak!"
"Ah! my lady — there's no doubt on
it!" responded Abraham, again looking suspiciously around. "Mr. Vernon
can't rest in his grave — his sperret walks about the house, and
greatly terrifies us — "
"A truce to this idle folly!" cried Lady
Ravensworth, her tone once more becoming severe.
Had the old man assured her that he had seen the spirit
of Lydia Hutchinson, she would have been suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of
tremendous awe; and she would have sank beneath the appalling weight of an
announcement the truth of which she would not have dared to question.
This influence, however, could only have been exercised
over her by the superstition associated with her own dread crime; and when,
contrary to her expectation, but greatly to her relief — the phantom
she so much dreaded was not the one of which the old man spoke, she immediately
rejected his tale as at once idle and unworthy even of credit.
"A truce to this idle folly!" she cried;
"and prepare yourself to give the explanations which my solicitor may
require at your hands to-morrow. Leave me. Go at once. Do you hear me?"
"I hope your ladyship — "
"Leave me, I say; and send my maid up with
"Yes, my lady — certainly I will,"
returned the old man, without moving from the place where he stood: "but
before I go — I must acquaint your ladyship — leastways,
I must in dooty to myself state that — though it really ain't a wery
pleasant thing you know — still it wasn't my fault — as
my old 'ooman can readily prove to your ladyship — "
Leave me!" cried Adeline, in a tone which showed
that she was determined to be obeyed. "If you have any apology to offer for
your conduct — -which, I regret to say, is now placed beyond all [-388-]
doubt by the confusion of your manner — you must satisfy my legal
adviser upon that head. Fear not, however, that I will seek to punish an old man
who cannot have many years to remain in this world: no — I am not
vindictive-my own sufferings," she added, with a profound sigh, "have
taught me to be merciful to others. But I do not desire to prolong this
conversation now. Leave me, I repeat — leave me!"
The gardener endeavoured to obtain a farther hearing
-for he was most anxious to communicate the fact of the dead body being in the
house; but Adeline waved her hand in a manner so authoritative, that the poor
old man had no alternative than to obey.
He accordingly left the room, quite bewildered by the
injurious suspicions which had arisen in the mind of his mistress against his
honesty; for he had spoken naught save the plain truth when he declared that the
disappearance of the pictures and ornaments had never been observed by either
himself or his wife.
The French maid carried lights up to the drawing-room,
and received from Lady Ravensworth instructions to prepare the bed-chamber
situate in the northern extremity of the building: this, in fact, was the same
apartment that Adeline had occupied after she had ceased to inhabit her boudoir,
and during the interval between the murder of Lydia Hutchinson and the suicide
of Gilbert Vernon.
The lady's-maid retired to fulfil her mistress's
directions; and Adeline was left once more alone.
The solemn silence that prevailed throughout the mansion
added to the depression of her spirits; and she could not combat against a vague
presentiment of approaching evil, which gradually acquired a greater influence
It is well known that many animals have an instinctive
knowledge of impending danger, even while its source remains as yet unseen. The
noble steed that bears the traveller through the forest, snuffs the air, paws
the ground, and swerves uneasily from his path, when in the vicinity of the lair
where the lion lies concealed: the little bird flutters wildly above the thicket
which hides the lurking snake; — and the buffalo trembles through
every limb as he approaches the tree from the dense foliage of which, high o'er
head, the terrible anaconda is prepared to spring.
Is such a feeling as this never known to human beings?
We believe that it is.
And certain was it that Adeline became the prey of a
similar influence — vague, sinister, and undefined, — as
she sate in the loneliness of the large apartment around which her glances
wandered with an uneasiness that did not diminish.
She rose from her seat and walked to the window: it was
now quite dark — the sky was over-clouded-and neither moon nor stars
"I could wish that the evening were less
gloomy," she said to herself. "And how long Quentin seems to be!"
Then she remembered that he had many purchases to make;
for it was not expected that the gardener would have provided the requisite
stock of provisions and necessaries, even if he bad received the letter
announcing Lady Ravensworth's intended return.
"Still I wish he would come!" said Adeline.
"He is a faithful servant-and I should feel more
secure were he near me. What can be this dreadful depression of spirits which I
experience? Alas! happiness and I have long been strangers to each other: but
never — never have I felt as I do to-night!"
She started: it struck her that the handle of the
folding doors communicating with the next room was agitated.
Yes: it was no delusion — some one was about
Yielding to fears which were the more intense because
they were altogether inexplicable, she leant against the wall for support — her
eyes fixed, under the influence of a species of fascination, upon the doors at
the farther extremity of the room.
Slowly did one of those folding-doors open; and for an
instant, in the wild turmoil of her feelings, the unhappy woman half expected to
behold the spectre of Lydia Hutchinson appear before her.
But-no: it was a man who entered.
The lights flared with the draught created by the
opening of that door; and for a few moments Adeline could only perceive the dark
form, without being able to distinguish his features.
Not long, however, did this painful uncertainty last;
for as the intruder advanced towards the almost fainting lady, the light
suddenly shone full upon his countenance; — and, with feelings of
indescribable horror, she once more found herself in the presence of the
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